New UB study says CTE risk not as prevalent as once thought

Aug 7, 2018

With all the controversy and debate surrounding concussions and CTE for those playing contact sports, there are some surprising results from a UB study.  WBFO' senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the new report is claiming the CTE risk is not as prevalent as once thought.  

UB study examined 21-retired Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres who suffered concussions.
Credit Photo from UB's power point.

The study examined 21-retired Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres who suffered concussions. It looked at aging effects, but it found that there were no signs of early onset dementia in the former players.

“The surprise, surprise is we didn’t find anyone with dementia,” remarked Barry Willer, UB professor and project director.

UB researchers issue their findings at Jacobs School of Medicine.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Willer noted there has been much concern surrounding CTE, which is a progressive degenerative disorder among professional players in contact sports, but so far the only way it is being diagnosed is after death.

“When we started this study we truly believed we would see much higher rates of cognitive decline and even dementia and we simply didn’t find it,” Willer said. “Our athletes were probably more involved in their sport and played longer than the general population of retired athletes, so it’s certainly equal – you can say that with confidence.”

Researcher John Leddy is director of UB Concussion Management Clinic.

“We just want to emphasize that CTE is a real problem and it may be for some athletes – we don’t know who, but for a lot of athletes it does not appear to be a problem and they probably need to worry a lot more things about things that are modifiable like cardiovascular risk factors, getting regular aerobic exercise, eating right,” Leddy explained.

WBFO News asked Leddy if the study results were a surprise to him.   

UB researchers issue their finds.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Yes, it did”, Leddy replied. “The good work coming out of Boston University suggested that a very high percentage of these athletics that played this long in the league would have real cognitive problems by the time they were in their 50’s and 60’s, so we expected to see signs of dementia and we did not.”  

The findings were conducted for UB's Healthy Aging Mind Project.  The average age of the players in the study is 56. It did find there was evidence of mild cognitive impairment for those retired athletes, but given their age, body mass index and education level that raises the risk.

Former Buffalo Bill Lou Piccone participated in the study. He played with the Bills from 1977 to 1982. He told WBFO News he suffered 17-concussions.

Former Buffalo Bill Lou Piccone participated in the study. He played with the Bills from 1977 to 1982.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“From my perspective, I’m upright, I’m taking nourishment, I’m okay, and I’m getting around. I have my issues. I have things that most people have, then I have things that I think were caused by the game, but you know it doesn’t hold me back.     

This research was funded primarily by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. But the foundation did not have a role in selecting subjects, study design, data analysis or preparations of the report findings.  The UB study is published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.